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Did they just ruin my car?

I have a '98 VW Passat with a paltry 80K miles on it. It’s its birthday, so I took it in to my local VW dealer for its 80K maintenance. I also had them check the cruise control, which doesn’t work anymore.

The service guy calls me back and says that the cruise needs a $100 fix, that my rear brakes are down to 2mm and I should replace them, and that they advise a fuel system cleaning for a car with this number of miles on it. Considering that I’d had an occasional (non-electric) problem starting the engine, and the importance of brakes, I authorize everything. Later, I get another call: the $100 fix didn’t actually fix the cruise, so there must be something else wrong, and they need my authorization for two hours of diagnostic work. I decline, and proceed to pick up my car.

Some $1,200 later, I’m driving home, and I hear noise that wasn’t there before. It’s a mechanical knocking noise, like a helicopter, and by the time I’m at freeway speeds (70-80), it may not be deafening, but it’s definitely overbearing. It’s enough to bring me to the brink of headache within 30 miles. So I call back to complain and set up an appointment for a week later.

I drop off the car, and on my way home they call me, telling me that the wheel bearings need to be replaced, at $600. I try asking them why that problem wasn’t there before I took it in, but is there now, but they weasel their way out of that one. So I approve the work. Hey, wheel bearings are important, right? And it’ll fix that darned noise!

You probably guessed by now: that infernal noise is still there. I’m out $1,800 on a ten year old vehicle. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful excuse to convince my wife it’s time to buy a brand spanking new car, on the other hand, I feel like a darn sucker.

What can I do? I’m afraid that if I take it in again, they’ll try to make me pay another several hundred bucks to not solve the problem. On the other hand, the car ran just fine before I took it in!

Oh, and one last thing: the check engine light is NOT on.


A wheel bearing does not make a knocking noise; at least I’ve never heard one do this.
Since the noise was not present before the brake work I’m inclined to think the problem could be related to a loose brake pad (missing rattle spring maybe?), a caliper bolt left loose, bent rotor shield, or something along that line. A half-shaft is usually the cause of a knocking noise in the front but I’m having difficulty figuring out how they could have harmed that by doing the brakes. Of course, with a big enough hammer… :slight_smile:

In defense of the dealer on the cruise control problem I’ll say this. I used to work for VW and in some electronic areas an exact diagnosis can be near impossible to reach on some problems. Cruise control is one of those areas.
In some of the factory service manuals it will state to check this, test that, or whatever and then may state at the end of the chapter that a problem can exist even if the test procedures come out fine. The factory manual may recommend “changing a part to see if it fixes the problem”.

That’s not very scientific I know, but I’ve been through those things a few times and it’s one of the main reasons I’m a bit follicly challenged now.

One thing to check on an erratic cruise problem, and often is overlooked, is the brake switch. Sometimes these switches have a tendency to cock sideways a bit and this can cause the cruise to be inoperable or erratic in operation.

About all I can suggest is having someone else take a look at the car. If you live near a major metro area you might look around for an independent European garage. Chances are a place that specializes in Benz or BMW could get through this one with few if any problems. Hope some of that helps anyway.

I hate when I read stories like this.

This is a classic case of a dealer taking full advantage of the customer. NOT right.

The unfortunate part in all this is the fact you authorized the work to be done. (Twice) So, you have no recourse there.

Take your complaint up a few notches in the dealership hierarchy and see if something can be honestly done for you. If nothing is solved to your satisfaction, you can find the dealer rep in your area to intervene.

The service writer is padding the bill AND it’s possible the mechanic who worked on the cruise control doesn’t have a clue about it, OR, never even looked at it.

Still, that’s a lot of money spent to still not have the original problem fixed.

I don’t believe all dealership repair shops are this sleazy, but I sure wouldn’t trust this one.

Take it to a reputable independent tech/shop who will repair the fault properly and will NOT tell you you NEED this, that, and the other.

A GOOD independent tech will however, suggest a certain component is starting to wear or is borderline and will recommend a safe solution.

Oh, the noise? I can’t even imagine what’s causing that.

I can only add my usual comment on this kind of question. There is no reason you need to take your car to a dealer! Dealers are no better (or worse) than independent mechanics for almost anything you might need done on your car. They will almost always charge more per hour and often more for parts and supplies. They also tend to look at repairs a little different than the independent.

A dealer may well recommend work that strictly may not be needed, but could be connected to the problem or maybe replace a part when a little repair would fix it ALMOST as good a new.  

There is no need to bring your car to the dealer for any service other than service that is going to be paid for by a recall or original warrantee.  During the warranty period be sure to have all required (as listed in the owner's manual) maintenance done and to document all maintenance work.

I suggest that most people would be better off finding a good independent (Not working for a chain) mechanic. 

Note: Never ever use a quick oil change place. They are fast cheap and very very bad.

I know how you feel. I also made the same mistake when I took my 05 Xterra in for its 30k service. It cost $1100 and now the check engine light is on. I feel so stupid but I did learn a lesson and it will never go back there again.

Thanks, I’ll try those things.

As far as the cruise goes, I’m not really worried about that. I do troubleshooting for a living myself, but then in software, so I know how that goes. I’ve driven without cruise for a while now, and while inconvenient, it doesn’t make the car unusable.

That noise though…

Your biggest mistake was telling them to do a fuel system cleaning. That was pretty much ASP(additional shop profit)